Depth-Chart Battles: NL (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
It’s here, everyone. Baseball is back. With that, the questions that the month of March typically answers are on fantasy players’ minds. Among the most important of those questions, who will win out in the various position battles across the league?
This article will bring some of the National League ones into focus. Click here for a look at a few American League depth-chart competitions.
St. Louis Cardinals – 2B: Tommy Edman vs. Matt Carpenter
As is often the case, spring position battles feature a declining veteran up against a developing youngster. That is exactly the case in the Cardinals infield, as, following the acquisition of superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado, 35-year-old Carpenter and 25-year-old Edman will compete at the keystone.
Since making his MLB debut back on June 8, 2019, Edman has held his own at the plate. Over 576 plate appearances so far in his big-league career, the versatile switch-hitter has posted a .283/.337/.449 slash line with 16 home runs and 17 steals. Looking back at Carpenter’s past two years, on the other hand, you find a three-time All-Star that has greatly tailed off with the bat. In 179 games since the start of the 2019 season, Carpenter has struggled to a .216/.332/.372 mark with 19 deep drives.
Prediction: Carpenter and Edman each have the ability to play multiple positions. Although, Carpenter has played third base almost exclusively with a little first mixed in the last couple of years. In any event, that should mean plenty of at-bats for both over the course of the season, but, considering his experience, salary, and that he hits left-handed, Carpenter enters the regular season on the strong side of a second-base platoon at minimum.
San Diego Padres – 2B: Jurickson Profar vs. Jake Cronenworth vs. Ha-seong Kim
Even going back into last season, the Padres seem determined to gather up as much talent as possible and just work out the positions and play time later. With an absolutely loaded lineup, second base seems to be the one place in question regarding who will be the primary guy there.
Cronenworth proved incredibly valuable as a rookie in 2020, as he posted a nice .831 OPS with 22 extra-base hits over 54 games. The now 27-year-old infielder also made at least one appearance at all four infield spots, seeing the vast majority of his time at second. Profar is about as versatile as it gets. He switch hits and is an option at every position aside from catcher and pitcher. Profar’s first season with the Padres started slowly, but there weren’t many hotter hitters in the league down the stretch last year. The Friars committed more than $30MM to bring Kim over from his native South Korea, where the 25-year-old infielder was predominantly a shortstop – obviously, Fernando Tatis Jr. will not be moving anywhere – and a stud from the right-hand batter’s box over the past six seasons.
Prediction: This one is really up in the air. All three of these everyday-caliber players will get significant at-bats, but the main question is how much they will limit each other’s fantasy value. It’s quite likely that Cronenworth’s left-handed bat earns him the majority of the starts. Yes, Profar can bat left-handed too, but he seems more likely headed for a super-utility role. Expect Kim to see most of his opportunities in the starting lineup when the Padres face a southpaw. He should get plenty of pinch-hit chances too.
Los Angeles Dodgers – 2B: Chris Taylor vs. Gavin Lux
It feels like the name Lux has been hyped as a future Dodgers star for years. He flat-out crushed minor-league pitching throughout 2018 and 2019. However, he has done very little with a minimal amount of big-league chances the past two years, scuffling to a .655 OPS with five homers, three steals, and a 28.5 percent K-rate across 151 plate appearances.
Taylor has been an important piece for the perennially contending Dodgers for four-plus years. He has been deployed all over the diamond while unspectacularly yet steadily contributing with the bat. Since 2017, Taylor has turned in an .811 OPS while averaging 14 home runs, 55 RBI, and nine stolen bases in right at 400 at-bats per campaign.
Prediction: The Dodgers would definitely love to see Lux wow everyone in spring training and run with the everyday job from the outset of the regular season. The expectation is that he will do that. That will allow the club to utilize Taylor in a well-suited utility role but be ready to take over at second should Lux falter.
Atlanta Braves – CF: Ender Inciarte vs. Cristian Pache
Pache is the overwhelming favorite to finish the season as the man in center for the Braves, but it is not certain that he cracks the Opening Day roster. That is not something that fans or fantasy owners want to hear, but the manipulation of Pache’s service time is definitely a factor here. The organization’s top prospect (No. 12 overall per MLB Pipeline) has seen a mere 29 big-league plate appearances to date. 25 of those, which Pache turned into four hits with a homer and a double, came in last fall’s NLCS. As far as his defense goes, Pache may already be the best center fielder in the game.
Be that as it may, Inciarte already has three Gold Glove awards on his shelf. At one time, he was an excellent leadoff man too. The problem for the 2017 All-Star is that his bat has basically disappeared since the beginning of the 2019 season, so much so that the Braves left him off their playoff roster last year. Inciarte is set to earn just shy of $9MM this season, and if he shows any significant improvement with the bat in March, you can bet the team will try to avoid that investment completely going to waste.
Prediction: Inciarte gets the nod coming out of spring training, but it is only a matter of time before Pache supplants him. After that, Inciarte is either traded away or moves into a fourth-outfielder role for the Braves. It would be quite surprising, barring injury, if Pache did not see at least 400 plate appearances in 2021.
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